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An interview with 'Full Body Burden' author Kristen Iversen

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Kristen Iversen


For decades, Rocky Flats, Colorado, was one of the nation's centers of nuclear bomb production. Here Cold War warriors molded plutonium triggers with lead-lined gloves for a rapidly expanding atomic arsenal. It was by nature a facility shrouded in secrecy. In the town that grew up around the Dow Chemical-operated plant, few but the employees themselves knew what was being produced. Cleaning supplies, perhaps? Until a joint FBI-EPA raid on the plant, no one could have suspected just how much highly toxic pollution had vented into the surrounding countryside or how close Colorado had come to an accidental nuclear explosion. Writer (and former Rocky Flats employee) Kristin Iversen grew up within eyeshot of Rocky Flats' water tower and comes to San Antonio this week to speak of her personal experiences as a resident and worker there as well as share broader lessons learned in the decade she spent researching Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats.

San Antonio was leading the charge in the recently trumpeted “nuclear renaissance” before serious cost increases and corporate in-fighting collapsed the deal. Of course, that was followed by the multiple meltdowns at Fukushima. And yet our publicly owned utility remains open to nuclear expansion in the future. In your opinion, is there a legitimate argument for keeping the nuclear door open as an energy source?
I think there's so many unsolved problems and risks and things that people aren't talking about. It's very interesting to be in touch with people in Japan and hear how the conversation and protests are developing there. I think they've been forced to face these issues much more directly than we have in the States. I think it is disturbing to me the way we're sort of pushing ahead with the nuclear power plants. There are so many issues in respect to safety, and then my particular thing is truth and transparency and putting the environment at risk in ways people are not aware. Certainly the human cost to people who live near to these facilities, and how their lives and health and properties may be affected in a very direct way, that's what worries me. One interesting thing that has happened since this book came out, I've received literally hundreds of emails from people who live around Rocky Flats, but also the Hanford [long-time nuclear production site in Washington] and Savannah River [nuclear reservation in South Carolina], and they send me these poignant emails about how they feel their health and their families' health have been affected by these plants in a negative way. A lot, a lot, a lot of cancer stories. A lot of scary stories.

Certainly if you look at some of the epidemiological studies that have been done in Germany, for instance, they're very, very different than what we've seen in the States.
There's never been any public health monitoring at Rocky Flats. In lots of studies, an independent study will show high levels of cancer and the Department of Energy will come back and say 'Well, you know, it's all relative. It's not really that much worse than anywhere else.' And these studies go back and forth. But the frustrating thing for me … it's not anything that has really been discussed. It's not stories that have been told. There's no information or support for [the affected families].

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